An advanced telescope imaging system that started taking data in June 2012 is the first of its kind capable of spotting planets orbiting suns outside of our solar system. The collaborative set of high-tech instrumentation and software, called Project 1640, is now operating on the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, after more than six years of development.
Researchers and engineers behind the project come from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, N.Y., the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena.
The project's first images demonstrate a new technique that creates extremely precise "dark holes" around stars of interest. These dark holes allow researchers to spot planets.
"The more we learn about them, the more we realize how vastly different planetary systems can be from our own," said Gautam Vasisht of JPL. "All indications point to a tremendous diversity of planetary systems, far beyond what was imagined just 10 years ago. We are on the verge of an incredibly rich new field."
Funding for Project 1640 is from NASA, the National Science Foundation, JPL and Caltech Optical Observatories internal development funds, the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, The Plymouth Foundation, Ron and Glo Helin, and Hilary and Ethel Lipsitz.
Read the full news release from the American Museum of Natural History at http://www.amnh.org/science/papers/starlight.php .
JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA. More information about exoplanets and NASA's planet-finding program is at http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov .